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Pedestrian fatality on 33rd happened near massive homeless encampment

NE 33rd Drive, looking south. Portlanders live in vehicles parked on the side of the road. (Photo: Lisa Caballero/BikePortland)

In response to BikePortland’s article yesterday about the early morning death of pedestrian Michael L. Bute on NE 33rd Drive, Portland attorney and safety advocate Scott Kocher commented that he had seen a large encampment of people in vehicles parked along NE 33rd Drive when he biked the road a couple of months ago.

Kocher told me that he was “horrified at the safety conditions,” and pointed out that the recent Oregon Walks report on pedestrian deaths found that “people experiencing houselessness are over ten times more likely to be killed as pedestrians than housed Portlanders.”

I visited NE 33rd Drive this morning and also saw a long line of cars and campers parked on both sides of the street, just south of where Bute was hit. The road is posted at 45 mph and the people who live here do not have a safe space to walk or cross the street. I observed a lot of truck traffic; standing on the side of the road did not feel safe to me. The camp had a portable toilet and the bike lanes appeared clear to me, although some residents had belongings right up to the line. I got the impression that residents were attempting to stay out of the lane.

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Looking north just past the Air National Guard entrance.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Kocher would like the Portland Bureau of Transportation to consider houseless Portlanders in its decisions about how streets should operate. According to Kocher, this particular area has enough residents that NE 33rd Drive should be classified as a collector in a residence district and posted at the required 20 mph. He also feels it is urgent to take away the center turn lane and use the additional width to create a safe walking space.

We don’t know that Michael Bute was connected to the encampment, he was struck about 150 yards north of it, in front of the Oregon Army National Guard building. [UPDATE: 7/7/21 5:18 PM] The Portland Police Bureau confirmed that the painted marks I saw in the street were part of their crash analysis, it appeared to me that Bute was crossing the street and that the car struck him while he was in the center turn lane. I didn’t notice any crosswalks nearby. The employees at the National Guard were unaware that a crash had occurred in front of their building over the holiday weekend.

(Scott Kocher is a financial supporter of BikePortland)

Lisa Caballero

— Lisa Caballero, lisacaballero853@gmail.com
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